Book Review: Dean Atta – The Black Flamingo

Featured picture: Kings Place.

The first Young Adult verse novel in Dean Atta’s catalogue, feels like a warm hug to my inner child, inner teenager, inner baby queer.

We grow through over 300 pages (over three hours as an audiobook — you must listen to the poets read their work whenever you can) along Michael’s journey of self-discovery within his family, his school(s) and university, and the world we share together. Through friendships, heartbreak and ignorance from the people surrounding him, and our own ignorance, as he is the sole holder of his ever-shifting truth. A fabulously proud miracle of melanin in a sea of pink.

Between the narrative verses of his story, there are poems within poems, textual conversations where the unspoken speaks volumes, user manuals for drag, performance, gender, race, origins, destinations.

Michael (and Atta) never forgets who he is and where he comes from, regardless of occassional turbulence in his flight, and always takes the opportunity to give a shout out to other black queer pioneers and trailblazers, from Beyonce and Audre Lorde to Jacob V Joyce and Chardine Taylor Stone. The last two, people I am blessed to know in person as influential figures, colleagues and friends. I have also been honoured to have taken workshops under Atta’s guidance in the dearly departed Mouthy Poets collective, the Pangea Poets project, and the MAC in Birmingham. It is amazing to see him thrive and reach audiences of all ages across the world, hopefully inspiring them all to write their stories, their guides, their truth.

Waiting for the sequel, to see Michael grow through the rest of his university years, drag and poetry career, and life. What happens to his friends, to that one cutie from the London hip hop gay club, and that no-so-cute person at the end. Not going to give out any spoilers, but Michael is fierce, beautiful, handsome and brave. Leventis, as those girls at the beach say. Leventis indeed.

Rediscover Communication II: Restless Pens and Foreign Tongues

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Last Bank Holiday, the lovely peeps at Mouthy Poets organised Restless Pens & Foreign Tongues, a workshop/open mic as part of Neat Festival and held at Nonsuch Theatre. The month-long festival, based in Nottingham, aims to bring and create interactions in arts and performance within an international context, particularly in the relationship of Britain as part of Europe.

The workshop was led by Melanie Irmey, member of the German collective Loewenmaul and based in Nottingham while she worked with Mouthy Poets for a few months. From the local corner, Chris McLoughlin facilitated the workshop too, and inspired us to write, read and share.

The idea was to explore the complexities and connections of the spoken language, not only in English but — preferably, rather — in other tongues, native, learned or even unknown. Sounds, ideas, new names for old feelings, old words for new images.

Even the WiFi is international at N_Space. :P
Even the WiFi is international at N_Space. 😛

It didn’t mean you had to know another language, but that you had to be willing to know, or even guess one or another. The vast majority of the students only knew English and whatever they could remember from holidays and GCSEs. Leanne Moden, a marvelous writer and pivotal part of poetry in the East Midlands, says she only speaks “English and Bad English”; yet that was certainly not an obstacle. There were a couple of Afghan boys in the beginning, alas they were a bit intimidated and left within an hour. It’s a shame, because it would have been beautiful to listen to their words.

Exploration was key. We were encouraged to describe pictures and concepts in our own language, borrow other people’s, incorporate their words into our work, take fragments of our work and translate them into dialects we had never heard before thanks to the imperfect powers of Google Translate.

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Later, the magic of technology took our interactions to the next level. Thanks to Skype, we held an open mic for and from the members of Loewenmaul all the way to Braunschweig. Through a massive projection on the wall, the poets shared collective and individual pieces in German, English or both. Albeit my knowledge of German comes mostly from hilarious Rammstein song titles (“You Smell So Good“, anyone?) and the most metal egg-free cookies recipe ever, the sentences were strong and powerful. There was one, shoulders naked, who proclaimed something quite immense about how — paraphrasing — “your mother is dead, but she was never alive in the first place”. If any Loewenmaulers could share her name and, in fact, the names of all the lovely performers, it would be majestic.

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Then, from our side, works in English and more. Moden scuba diving into Icelandic, me trolling everyone with Mexican pop culture in Spanish, and this badass South African dude named Pete — again, share name and more work, please — shared an Afrikaans account on the current situation in his country. He later read the English translation, but even the original writing was engaging enough.

That’s what I mean with rediscovering communication. In the end, the words stop needing translation. We sort of develop internal devices like the ones from Stark Trek or Mass Effect, even environmentally-controlled programmes like the one from the TARDIS, and we speak the language of the world and the world speaks our language.

A lot of the people who want to close borders, a lot of the people who want to leave the community, don’t even bother understanding their motherland tongues.